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Al Gore at C40 CitiesAl Gore at Cities4Climate event, GCAS 2018. Courtesy: C40 Cities for Climate

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Global Climate Action Summit 2018
Blog 2: "Please Excuse the Geekiness" – Former Vice President Al Gore

Alison Holmes, our regular columnist, is on the ground in San Francisco in the heart of the GCAS
Published on September 14, 2018

Once upon a time and what feels like a thousand years ago, I had the great honor of attending the launch of "An Inconvenient Truth" hosted by Al Gore in the Guildhall in London. That was actually about eleven years ago, so not surprisingly, it was a slightly heavier and much grayer Gore who spoke in San Francisco's City Hall as the closing keynote speaker to the Cities4Climate conference organized by C40 Cities for Climate Leadership https://www.c40.org/ and Bloomberg Philanthropies www.bloomberg.org. However, I would suggest that his ability to 'talk science' in a both concise and compelling way has only increased in the intervening decade.

Powell Street station The Powell Street Muni Metro/BART station, a metaphor for modern life. Photo: Alison Holmes
Opening with the old adage that "everything has been said but not everyone has yet had a chance to say it", the subtitle of his talk could have been 'earth, wind and fire' as he reeled out factoid after factoid about devastating storms, floods and fires that have ravaged not only the state of California and the United States, but the entire world. Changes in the gulf stream and weather holding patterns, the number of gallons of water dropped in a single storm, and the pressing fact that – even as this summit is preparing to convene and for the first time, there are major storms in both the Atlantic and Pacific simultaneously, all serving to illustrate the urgency of the need for action.

So you may ask Al, but I am sorry, we can't excuse the "geekiness" now even less than we did all those years ago. It is your calling – your vocation – and perhaps your most endearing quality that you clearly love and respect the data you lovingly gather and disseminate in an almost paternal way and carry it to the rest of the world with clarity and care.

The point of the day's conference was to highlight the activities of cities around the world and the people who are stepping up to the challenge of climate change. By closing with one of the 'founders' of the science-led front of the environmental movement, we not only can't forgive you, but we should thank you for taking up the torch all those years ago and tending that flame with passion and patience, waiting for the seismic shift (ecological pun intended) in public opinion that now offers you a more receptive audience for your critical "geek" message.

Life in a City of Disparity

I have met a very nice man here in San Francisco. He was sitting on a tiny stool in the lift down to the Powell Street Muni Metro/Bay Area Rapid Transit station with a newspaper and a clipboard in his hand. It's a minute space with stale air reeking of the worst, if necessary side of human nature. Yet he was cheerful and bright as he greeted me upon entry and again on exit – even though it's only a moment's ride down one level. When I inquired about the job, I was told that the 'community' had taken on the responsibility of monitoring the key lifts along Market Street. I foolishly asked why, but quickly retracted the question as the reasons were as obvious in the air as the smile on his face. This morning I rode that same lift and met another delightful man serving the city in a way that made me feel safer - but also sadder that such a job is necessary. In a city – and a specific part of the city – in which money is almost no object that someone has to ensure people can get down one flight of stairs surely says something troubling about urban life today.

Dr. Alison Holmes is Associate Professor of International Studies and Politics at Humboldt State University, CA. She lived in the UK for over 20 years and worked at the BBC, ran BritishAmerican Business in London and was speechwriter to the US Ambassador. A PhD in International Relations from the LSE, she has been an Associate Fellow at the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford, a Churchill Memorial Trust History Fellow and the Transatlantic Studies Fellow at Yale.



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